Recently I came across a magazine that featured photos of postcards inmates of the Nazi death camps at Lublin had written in the early 1940’s. The inmates were urged to send postcards to their relatives, but were only allowed short innocuous messages. “I got your package,” for instance, or, “I am well.” After writing out their postcards, the prisoners were sent to the gas chamber, and the postcards were mailed by the camp authorities in a clever stealth mass murder.
In the German Nazi Party’s program, lying was raised to a highly desirable technique, it was basic in the campaign to invoke hatred of Jews and all other political resisters and outcasts, which included sexually “loose” women. Through the Party’s propaganda tactics German citizens eventually became akin to cattle following desires tailored for them by the Nazi state. There was the developed Party ideology, but finally it all amounted to being about thievery. About stealing everything of value in every landscape on which German soldiers set foot, a sort of genocidal commercialism that required active interventions by closely controlled institutions – more or less a Mafia ideal.
Did those handwritten messages convey such a world of sad flowering thought with their intricacies of family bonds that they painted a very exact picture of macabre Nazi behaviors? As if it made possible a stark and sudden understanding of the grotesque Nazi way? The sheer spiritual niggardliness of it? Why could a doomed innocent in that Lublin camp not have been allowed to write a minimal declaration, such as, “ I’m doing well and hold in my heart a great love for you all.” This was lying used as a pre-digital control app in the service of a feral sadism. The Nazi techniques around lying were honed to an exquisite degree. And it ended with what might just as well have been cooking fellow human beings like hot cross buns in a bakers’ oven.
Lying generally represents a way of expressing hostility and disrespect. Basically it’s a stealth behavior, getting one-up on a victim sneakily, in the way sexual harassment is acted out, or as in child sexual abuse; and sometimes it’s akin to rape. I can imagine that a successfully told lie gives its initiator the kind of rush and/or feeling of control that rapists seek.
Let me say outright: We all tell lies. Occasionally, and when a specific type of situation demands it of us. As in a scenario in which someone has fed you a meal not to your actual liking, but you tell them it was very good. In order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, at times you say that their outfit looks good on them, or they aren’t losing their hair noticeably, or the color red brings out the rosy hue of their cheeks. Who among us hasn’t committed these limited-fallout situational lies? Ones that are understood as small, no-change involved lies, shown by their designation as “white” lies.
Lying seriously, with an intent to hide something, has potential substantial fallout; it’s an animal of a different nature from the common white lie. Unlike bullshit, it’s specific, and unlike a white lie, it’s delivered with a measured, distinctly casual tone, and its successful propagation and voicing is a focus of the liar’s conscious focus on the words. He/she needs the lie to go over, and is invested in that happening. That’s where the psycho-thriller aspect, the source of the rapist’s rush — or the partner’s satisfaction at having launched an invisible barb undetected — comes into play. In the case of a sociopath, like our last president, the lie is going to bring about a reward of some sort, but these lies of conscious focus also protect the liar from being known by others, also by him or herself. The ego awareness is not solid or complete, or perhaps not present at all, as a state of sociopathy entails hosting a fluid, non-cemented sense of self, a self that’s unanchored to a grownup sense of accountability for behavior. The sociopath is paranoid by definition; someone else is always getting in the way of him getting what he wants, otherwise, why would he have to destabilize the facts? He or she is a narcissist as no one else’s concerns really matter to him or her, only what he wishes to achieve with the lies told. I have lived around someone with this talent for lying convincingly, and when I think back on how practiced in being able to explain away inconsistencies this person was, it is as if the entire world of events might be amenable to the flow and flux of a single person’s latest spin on why or how or when something happened. It seems like scripting a movie or a novel spontaneously. (The wife of the California novelist John Fante said that she never knew when he was lying or telling the truth. But he was supporting them handsomely with his “stories, and she didn’t have pressure to believe them.)
Addicted liars have most likely since their own childhood been around other people who lied habitually. It is a behavior absorbed, and used as a coping mechanism, an easy blame-avoiding way in which to avoid hurtful ego attacks. With practice the liar learns to assume a certain casual tone, sometimes monotonic and controlled, and a positive casual relaying is one that puts off any focus on, or accountability from the liar. Listen to the tone of voice. The sociopath has learned to use lying in advance of a behavior that they are intending to engage in at a future time. The lie will inoculate them in the future, and it very often accuses a perceived enemy as having committed the same behavior that the liar has committed, or is then in the process of committing. It’s about hiding the truth, confusing the landscape, throwing up octopal ink to prevent a clear picture. Destroying truth.
At its most effective, a lie may be so cunning it deflects future notice of a criminal act. Ted Bundy famously worked as a counselor at a suicide prevention hotline, and did political work, and maintained a consistently clean-cut appearance. When he picked up his very young female victims, whom he would murder and upon whom he then committed necrophilia, he approached them with his arms in a sling, asking for their assistance to carry something to his car. He lived with his girlfriend. Lying as a cover for criminal acts raises stealth and cunning to a sword-like tool that shreds truth and trust into disarrayed excelsior with which one can package and insulate the lie, and its perp, from suspicion.
For a demonstration of how lying via confusion-production is achieved, see the TV show Russia Today (RT). It’s billed as a” news” show. Its producers simply throw in vague imagery or statements to confuse an issue, they don’t put forth a lie of specific content, they merely suggest. This shadowy lying can be effective. The first time I watched Russia Today in a hotel room in Spain I was mesmerized by the show’s crude attempt to refute a claim that Russian troops had blown up a humanitarian supply convoy moving toward a population of citizens in great need. RT employed vague and shadowy images of unidentifiable vehicles running alongside the convoy trucks, while the narrator claimed the bombings were done by someone other than their troops – confusing the issue in almost childlike ways. I remember thinking then, “They must think that we all just fell off the turnip truck, to accept such a simplistic propaganda spin.” I haven’t watched RT in three years, but I imagine they’d found out that in lying with imagery, less can be more. Shadowy images weaponized to produce confusion about what was shown on the TV screen, or alleged by the Western press.
By putting into the social mix one lie after another, the public can be bamboozled in somewhat the way a bulldozer consistently applied can rearrange much of the earth in the locality its put to work in.
The beginning of 2020 was a pivotal period in this country. As a nominee our last president visited West Virginia, telling out-of-work coal workers that he’d bring back that state’s coal mining jobs. As president he told us the novel coronavirus would disappear by Easter 2020, then that it was no worse than the flu. When he caught it, he took oxygen therapy, and was helicoptered to a top hospital. No gasping for breath for the five-year-old would-be king. Later on he exhorted the public not to be afraid of the virus, it was nothing serious at all.
The ex-president claimed—and now claims — he’d actually won the 2020 Presidential election, a bigger big lie. After trying to prevent Congressional certification of the states’ vote counts from taking place on January 6th failed, Trump thought if he could just get a court case up to the Supreme Court the Justices would vote in his favor. He’d appointed three of them, and therefore, they owed him a “favor” in his transactional worldview. What the public who believed in his interpretations failed to realize, was, they’d been drawn into a black hole of chaos and uncertainty. We’ve had a splash of sulfuric acid thrown into our faces. It’s defaced us as a nation. It’s defaced our commonwealth. To get back to democracy and peace we need to do some hard work and soul- searching.
Lawyer and American Founding Father, John Adams, wrote to his good friend Benjamin Rush after the founding, “How long will it be possible that honor, truth or virtue should be respected among a people who are engaged in such a quick and perpetual succession of such profligate collisions and conflicts?” These Founders (plus Abigail, without whom John would not have lasted) had struggled for years over the framework of the new government, they’d thought about how to make it lasting, even whether it was at all possible to insure that.
The naïveté of Trump supporters fascinates me. Is their inability to detect lies just delusion due to their somewhat understandable fear of having our Euro-American culture so watered down by multiculturalism that they and their values will be erased? Or do they willfully self-delude in the face of media that supports their worldview?
What of the ex-president’s tie-in with Q-Anon followers, about whom he remarked he didn’t know much, but knew they like him? Can anyone believe the Q-Anon premise that our California wildfires were started by Jews in outer space aiming lasers at our state? Or that the Democrats at the Capitol drink human blood and traffic in children? To those who believe such fantastical ideas – take a few moments out, folks, these are very time-consuming activities, even if you choose to ignore their unlikely nature. Do you think human slaughter and sex trafficking would not be noticed – and, nowadays, photographed – by family, friends, drivers, cooks, and co-workers? These activities would take their presence, and their energies for at least six hours of a day. I’m being facetious, but I’m trying to call forth simple common sense analysis. And why is it only Jews who fly to outer space, who can arrange to go to outer space; and would it be so easy to bring along a laser? These sorts of beyond rational concepts would only be believed in 19th century America by naïve and unschooled outback rubes or new immigrants, about whom it was often said they “ just fell off the turnip truck.” You could therefore sell them anything, or any idea.
In 1348 Europe, during the Black Plague, many people clung to the delusion that the Plague (this was prior to the understanding that pathogenic microorganisms caused disease) was caused by Jews poisoning the water wells. This belief was adhered to even though the populace had seen that Jews also contracted and died of Plague, even though no one had ever seen a Jew polluting the wells, and even though, since Jews lived mostly in ghettos in cities, no Jews were ever in most localities. I see similarities between that phenomenon and these last years in America. Science has long since given us Bacteriology, Psychology, Psychiatry, medical technology of advanced kinds, the Internet, space exploration, and the entire host of theoretical areas from which to derive explanations for what might harm humans. It’s been hundreds of years since the Salem witch trials showed us how political beliefs can officially insist on superstition to enhance social power, by authority figures tossing in fantasy and mass hysteria.
So what’s it all about?
As close to the edge as we’ve come to sinking and crashing our democracy, a few threads held it together. Those brave election officials, state and national, who dared to disagree with Trump publicly about the national election. It was the election in our history in which the most voters took part. Kudos to those counters of votes and election officers who persisted in doing their jobs despite contumely and threats, sometimes to their lives. It was that admirable American insistence on the right to proceed to do one’s job.
This morning I happened to hear an interview on NPR with Evan Osnos, a reporter for The New Yorker. He said he thinks there’s something deeply appealing to people in finding out the truth, if they’re open to seeing the evidence. At the beginning of our American democracy people asked one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, what sort of government had been rendered from such long-indulged and sometimes extremely bitter arguments, discussions, and analysis, and Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” He meant us, now, as well as that individual he then spoke to; he’d considered democracy’s vulnerability down the line because he was a practical man, a realist; he indicated then that we citizens are all responsible for preserving our form of government, through time.
The losing cohort in the 2020 national election creates the impression there is a problem with voting fraud by repeating over and over the big lie. If this cohort gets greater access to media, the untrue idea that there’s a need for voting-access suppression can be maintained. How to counter this political engineering in our time is the problem that we the people must grapple with and solve. To be successful, we need to remain anchored in common sense thinking.
The Internet, antibiotics, the telephone, weather reports, refrigeration, TV, airplane flights, polio vaccinations, and the tourniquet – the common use of all these has a basis in the findings of science. And the general American populace does not give a second thought to availing itself of any of these technological advances when they feel themselves in need; the same is true for technical advances in weaponry. How does this fact of our collective behavior square with the rejection of science where it concerns public health practices or climate change? We might look to the politicians who repeatedly have claimed, as did Joseph Stalin, that “the press is the enemy of the people.” When a nation is fearful, bitter and frustrated, as were the Germans in the early nineteen-twenties, and so distrustful, its populace will grasp at straws, or at nothing at all, when they themselves have filled up the turnip truck to such overflow there’s no available surface left for any one of us to hold on to.
### Copyright Penny Skillman 2022 :
Penny Skillman’s latest book, TUBES, is due out in January 2022, if all goes well. It’s about manipulation, activism, Florida, and 70’s San Francisco. Her novella The Spaniel’s Bark was published by Scarlet Leaf Review, and What Happened to Easter was excerpted for a reading on Berkeley’s KPFA radio show “Stone’s Throw” by Jennifer Stone. Her novella The Cats’ Journal was chosen as Small Press Review’s Book-of-the-Month and read on KPFA radio. She’s been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, AVA, and many other hard print and online publications.
Penny Skillman: I’ve written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, AVA, and more recently for the Scarlet Leaf Review. My novellas have been excerpted for readings on KPFA Pacifica public radio